A major new work from the author of the renowned My Struggle series, The Morning Star is an astonishing, ambitious, and rich novel about what we don't understand, and our attempts to make sense of our world nonetheless
One long night in August, Arne and Tove are staying with their children in their summer house in southern Norway. Their friend Egil has his own place nearby. Kathrine, a priest, is flying home from a Bible seminar, questioning her marriage. Journalist Jostein is out drinking for the night, while his wife, Turid, a nurse at a psychiatric care unit, is on a night shift when one of her patients escapes.
Above them all, a huge star suddenly appears blazing in the sky. It brings with it a mysterious sense of foreboding.
Strange things start to happen as nine lives come together under the star. Hundreds of crabs amass on the road as Arne drives at night; Jostein receives a call about a death metal band found brutally murdered in a Satanic ritual; Kathrine conducts a funeral service for a man she met at the airport – but is he actually dead?
The Morning Star is about life in all its mundanity and drama, the strangeness that permeates our world, and the darkness in us all. Karl Ove Knausgaard’s astonishing new novel, his first after the My Struggle cycle, goes to the utmost limits of freedom and chaos, to what happens when forces beyond our comprehension are unleashed and the realms of the living and the dead collide.
Release date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Penguin Press
Print pages: 688
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The Morning Star
Karl Ove Knausgaard
The sudden thought that the boys were asleep in their beds inside the house behind me while the darkness descended on the sea was so pleasant and peaceful that I wouldn't let go of it at first, but tried instead to sustain it and pin down what was good about it.
We'd put the nets out a few hours earlier, so I imagined their hands still smelling of salt. There was no way they would have washed them without me telling them to. They liked to make the transition between being awake and asleep as brief as possible; at any rate, they would pull off their clothes, get under the covers and close their eyes without so much as switching the light off, as long as I didn't intervene with my calls for them to brush their teeth, wash their faces, fold their clothes up neatly on the chair.
Tonight I'd said nothing and they had simply slipped into their beds like some long-limbed, smooth-skinned species of animal.
But that wasn't what had felt so good about the thought.
It had been the idea of the darkness falling independently of them. That they were sleeping as the light outside their rooms retreated from the trees and the forest floor to shimmer faintly for a short while in the sky, before it too darkened and the only light left in the landscape came from the shining moon, spectral in its reflection on the surface of the bay.
Yes, that was it.
That nothing ever stopped, that everything only went on and on, day became night, night became day, summer became autumn, autumn became winter, year followed year, and they were a part of it, at that very moment, as they lay sound asleep in their beds. As if the world were a room they visited.
Across the water, the red beacons on top of the mast winked in the darkness above the trees. Beneath them lights glowed from the summer houses. I swigged a mouthful of wine, then jiggled the bottle to gauge how much was left, unable to see in the gloom. Just under half full.
When I was little, July had been my favorite month. Nothing unusual about that, it was the simplest, most carefree of months, with its long days full of light and warmth. Then, when I became a teenager, it was the autumn I'd liked, the darkness and rain, perhaps because it brought a sense of gravity to life that I found romantic and could measure up to. Childhood was a time for running around immersed in life, youth was the discovery of the peculiar sweetness of death.
Now it was August I liked best. Nothing odd about that either, I thought; I was in midlife, at that juncture in time when things come to completion, when slowly and steadily life's increasing abundance starts to stagnate, on the cusp of its beginning to wane, to tail off into quite as slow a decline.
Oh, August, your darkness and warmth, your sweet plums and scorched grass! Oh, August, your doomed butterflies and sugar-mad wasps!
The wind rose up over the sloping ground. I heard it before I felt it against my skin, and then the leaves in the treetops rustled a moment above my head before settling again. Rather like a person asleep, perhaps, turning over after lying still for a long time. And then quickly descending into deep sleep again.
On the flat rocks at the shore below, a figure came into view. Although from where I sat it was impossible to identify a person from such a shadowy outline, I knew it was Tove. She crossed over their smooth, gently inclining surface onto the jetty and from there onto the path that led up the slope. Not long after, I could hear her come up the grassy bank just below the garden.
I sat quite motionless. If she was alert, she would see me, but it had been days since she'd been alert to anything.
"Arne?" she said, and came to a halt. "Are you there?"
"I'm here," I said. "By the table."
"Are you sitting here in the dark? Can't you light the lamp?"
"I suppose," I said, and picked up the lighter from the table. The wick lit up with a deep, clear flame, the light it produced, surprising in its strength, forming a dome of illumination in the murk.
"I could do with a sit-down," she said.
"Be my guest," I said. "Do you want some wine?"
"Have I got a glass?"
"In that case it doesn't matter," she said, plonking herself down in the wicker chair opposite me. She was wearing shorts and a cropped top, her feet in a pair of rain boots that reached to her knees.
Her face, always on the pudgy side, was swollen from the medication she was taking.
"I'll have some on my own then," I said, and poured from the bottle. "Was it a nice walk?"
"Yes. I had an idea along the way. So I hurried back."
She got to her feet.
"I'll start straightaway."
"A series of pictures."
"But it's nearly eleven o'clock," I said. "You need to sleep as well."
"I can sleep when I'm dead," she said. "This is important. You can look after the boys tomorrow, seeing as you're on holiday. Take them fishing or something."
When the hell are you going to care about anyone but yourself? I thought, and gazed toward the winking mast.
"Yes, I might," I said.
"Good," she said.
I watched her as she crossed the garden to the white annex at the far end. She switched the light on inside and the windows shone yellow through the looming shadows the darkness had made of the trees and bushes outside.
A moment later she came out again. The shorts she was wearing, and her bare legs in her oversized rain boots, lent her the appearance of a young girl, I thought. The stark contrast with the top that sat so tightly around her bulky frame, and her drawn and weary expression, immediately filled me with a sense of pity.
"I saw three crabs in the woods," she said, coming over to the table once more. "I forgot to mention it when I got back."
"Some seagulls will have dropped them, I imagine," I said.
"But they were alive," she said. "They were crawling in the undergrowth."
"Are you sure? That they were crabs, I mean? Not some other small creature?"
"Of course I'm sure," she said. "I thought it would interest you."
She turned and went back to the annex, closing the door behind her. A moment passed, then music came from inside.
I poured the rest of the wine and wondered whether to go to bed or sit for a while. I'd need a sweater if I was going to stay out.
She'd been on a high for days now. The signs were always the same. She'd start e-mailing and phoning, posting long reports on Facebook, obsessing about things that didn't matter, or at least didn't warrant such concern-housework, for instance-or she would immerse herself completely in some drawn-out project. Another sign was that she became so careless. She would sit on the toilet and leave the door open, or turn the radio up extremely loud, without a thought for anyone else, and if she made dinner, the kitchen would be left like a bomb site.
It annoyed me intensely, all of it. When at last she had some energy, why couldn't she channel it in a way that could benefit us all? At the same time, I often felt sorry for her. She was like a little girl who'd got lost and kept telling herself everything was all right.
But crabs in the woods? How could that be? What kind of creature could have made her mistake it for a crab? Or was it just something she'd imagined?
I smiled as I got to my feet. Standing, I drained the rest of the wine in a single gulp before taking the bottle and glass in my hand and going inside. The warmth of the day still lingered in the rooms. It felt almost like taking a dip, the way the warm air enveloped my face and the bare skin of my arms. That everything was illuminated merely intensified the feeling, as if somehow I'd stepped into a different element.
I put the bottle away with the other empties in the cupboard, considering for a moment whether to bag them and take them out to the car ready to drive to the recycling station the next day, realizing all of a sudden what such a number of bottles might look like to someone else's eyes. But there was no reason to do anything about it now, it was eleven o'clock at night, it could wait until tomorrow, I told myself, and rinsed the glass under the tap, rubbing the bottom and rim clean with my fingers, drying it with the tea towel and putting it back on the open shelf above the sink.
A tiny spider was lowering itself from a thread underneath the shelf. It was no bigger than a bread crumb but looked like it knew exactly what it was doing. It got to about twenty centimeters off the work surface, then stopped and dangled in the air.
At the same moment, a window somewhere in the house banged several times in succession. It sounded like it came from the bathroom, so I went to see. Sure enough, the window was open, flapping with the whims of the wind that was now picking up. It banged back once more against the outside wall, the curtain billowing out in the open space. I gathered it in and shut the window, then stood in front of the mirror and began to brush my teeth. Absently, I pulled up my T-shirt and considered my stomach, finding again that I could no longer identify it as my own; it didn't belong to the man I felt I was. I didn't have what it took to get rid of it, for while I told myself at least several times a day that I needed to lose weight, start running and swimming, it never got to the stage where I actually did anything about it. The question therefore was whether I could turn it into something positive.
The worst thing to do was try to hide it, wear big shirts and baggy trousers in the belief that no one would notice as long as no bulging fat was visible. What was visible instead was a fat man with his shame. In fact, what you saw was more than just a fat man, it was somebody real, whose most personal, intimate sphere had been embarrassingly breached.
I spat the toothpaste out in the sink, rinsed my mouth with water directly from the tap and put the toothbrush back in the glass on the shelf.
Was it not manly to be big? Was it not masculine to possess weight?
The wind rushed in the leaves outside, tugging at the branches of the trees and shrubs; now and then a gust would cause the old walls of the house to creak. It would start raining soon, I thought, and went into the living room, turning off the lights before going upstairs and looking in on the boys. The air inside their room was still warm, the sun had shone in all afternoon, and they were both lying on top of their duvets, Asle's bunched up in the tangle of his arms and legs, the ceiling lamp throwing its light on them.
They were even more alike when they slept, for much of what set them apart from each other was a matter of behavior, the way they did different things, the way they held and turned their heads, moved their hands, furrowed their brows, or the way they said things, the nuances of their voices, the tone in which a question would be posed. Now they were just bodies and faces, and as such almost completely alike.
I still hadn't got used to it, for although their likeness was no longer something I tended to think about that much, I would always become so keenly aware of it in moments like this, when suddenly I saw them, not as two individuals, but as two versions of the same body.
I put the light out and went into the bedroom at the other end of the house, undressed and got into bed to read. But I'd had too much to drink, and after a few sentences I closed the book and switched off the lamp. Not that I was drunk, the sentences and their meaning didn't swim about like that; it was more that the alcohol had softened my will, weakened it and made it almost impossible to mobilize even the small measure of effort required to read a novel.
It was so much better to lie with eyes closed and allow the mind to wander wherever it wanted, in softness and darkness.
In the daytime there was something hard and edgy about what I contained, something dry and barren, as if I comprised some singular realm of the negative, where so much was about desisting, declining, abstaining. The wine made up for it; the hardness, the edginess didn't go away, it was just no longer so all-consuming. Like seaweed when the tide has gone out and it's been lying there on the rocks, dried up by the sun, and then the water rises again: the way the seaweed feels then! When it senses the cold, salty water lifting it up; when it waves back and forth in that wondrous, replenishing element and all its surfaces become soft and moist once more . . .
Wavering in the zone immediately beyond conscious thought, where a person may drift in and out for several minutes before sleep eventually kicks in, I thought I could hear raindrops against the window and roof, as if foregrounded in the unremitting rush of the trees and bushes in the garden, the more distant washing of the waves down in the bay.
I was woken by Tove's voice.
"Arne!" she was shouting. "Arne, come quick!"
I sat bolt upright. She was in the hall below, and the first thing that came to my mind was that she would wake up the boys.
"Something's happened," she shouted. "Come quick!"
"Yes, I'm coming," I said, as I pulled on my shirt and hurried down the stairs.
She was standing in the doorway in her shorts and rain boots. She was crying.
"What's happened?" I said.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, but not a sound came out.
"Tove," I said. "What's happened?"
She gestured for me to follow her. We went over to the annex, through the passage and into the living room.
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